Spaces for Life: Interview with a designer
By Lance McCarthy
What is the job of a designer? You might list: pick out paint colors, make things look pretty, draw, plan furniture placement, help pick out materials, or possibly to make your budget jump through the roof!
Part design, part counselor
When it comes to residential design, where the designer is working so closely to the homeowner, something else actually happens. Yes, those might be things a designer does, but more importantly the designer is a translator or mediator. “Marital Counselor” should probably be something on my business card since most of what I do is blending two different people’s styles, wants, needs, expectations, and more importantly their emotions into one single place where they both feel happily satisfied. Each person comes to the table with a different set of values, past experiences, unshared expectations, and emotional trigger points.
Many times there are contradictions between those things. For example, a client could tell me they want their space to feel warm, cozy, and comfortable, but that they also want lots of windows, 12 ft. ceilings, and and open floor plan. Their spouse could tell me that they want low-maintenance materials/finishes, a modest budget, and show me all of their saved Houzz photos picturing carerra marble.Resolving contradictions
Now, I don’t expect everyone to know the natural properties of marble and how it can stain or etch from acid; if I did – I’d be out of a job. This is part of what a designer is for. But I am trying to sift through the clues my clients give me to figure out the true wants and needs.
Find the real desire
The key is getting to the heart. What is most important? What do you care about more: the look of marble, or the low-maintenance? Usually, someone will say, “oh I just like that overall look, but it doesn’t have to be those exact materials.” The key to that is that they like the white and light feeling of the space, but the maintenance ended up weighing more heavily as important to that client.
Making good decisions
It’s like giant scales of Justice, where I am constantly trying to figure out which aspects weigh more heavily to move on to the next round. More often than not, it’s between budget and a want. That silly budget jumps on and off the scale throughout the whole design process like flea on a dog. It may be annoying, but it is necessary. It’s expected on my end and it’s how we make decisions: constantly weighing the good and the bad in order to narrow things down.
The successful translation happens when a client feels like I’ve honestly listened to them, I understand their vision and wants almost magically as if I could read their mind for what they can’t always express to me eloquently, and then when they get to live in the finished space. That is the moment when a client fully understands how dramatic the impact design can have on their lives, and the value of having a designer is then fully understood.